Joe Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients is leaving the administration after 14 months as COVID-19 case numbers continue to decline, signaling a step-down of the federal government’s response to the pandemic.
Biden described Zients as an “expert manager” and a man of service in the announcement of his departure last week. He noted that when Zients took the position, less than one percent of Americans were fully vaccinated and fewer than half of the county’s schools were open. Biden said that as Zients leaves his post, almost 80 percent of adults are fully vaccinated and almost all schools have reopened. He added that the U.S. is delivering more free vaccines internationally than any other nation.
Zients, who served as the director of the National Economic Council under President Obama, is being replaced by Dr. Ashish Jha. Jha is the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and has been a prominent media figure during the pandemic.
Biden said that although many COVID restrictions mandating measures like masking and social distancing are being lifted across the country, he believes the government’s work in fighting the virus is “far from done.”
The president stressed that he expects the government to continue providing vaccines and boosters while working to have a vaccine approved “for the youngest children.” He added that the government must take “special care” to protect the vulnerable, and should continue providing treatments, masks, and at-home tests. Biden also said that he expects his administration to remain prepared for outbreaks of new variants and pledged to work with Congress to fund those measures, as “time is running out.”
As recently as January, five Senate Democrats wrote to Zients asking for answers as to why the Biden administration failed to act earlier in increasing access to at-home tests in response to the omicron variant surge. Since that time the omicron spike has softened and the current seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases is now at the lowest level since mid-July 2021.
Zients’s departure perhaps marks another step in Biden’s plan for declaring the pandemic to be over. Of course, it is likely that the White House will structure any such announcement to fit in the best possible way with the Democratic strategy to somehow salvage its chances in the upcoming midterm elections.